9 Life sentences in child sexual abuse case

Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies and bailiffs provided security during sentencing, which was attended by the victim and her family.

A Panama City man received 9 consecutive life sentences Wednesday after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl multiple times over a period of months and videotaping the attacks, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.

Phillip Lyvonne Stephens, 38, was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison Wednesday morning by Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark, who also presided over Stephens’ one-day bench trial and found him guilty as charged on all 10 counts.

Prosecutor Jennifer Lieb, right, questions Bay County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Murray Williams. Left is co-counsel Josh James.

The defendant waived his right to a jury trial on 7 counts of Sexual Battery on a Child Under the Age of 12, 2 counts of Lewd and Lascivious Molestation, and 1 count of Lewd or Lascivious Exhibition.

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However, Judge Clark did not waive Stephens’ appearance for sentencing. With 8 Bay County Sheriff’s Office deputies and bailiffs – along with the victim and her family – in the courtroom, lead Prosecutor Jennifer Lieb asked Clark for the maximum sentence.

“He has refused to accept responsibility and has adamantly blamed everyone else, including the victim,” Lieb said in court. “He very carefully groomed this child to behave the way he wanted her to.”

Judge Clark said that based on the evidence before him, which included video the defendant recorded of the multiple sexual attacks, recordings of phone calls the defendant made from jail, and testimony from the victim, he was giving the defendant Life in prison on the first 9 charges and 15 years on the final charge. The defendant was also designated a Sexual Predator.

Lieb praised the victim, who was the State’s second witness, for her strength in testifying and being in court for sentencing.

“This child is incredibly brave to face the person that abused her multiple times,” Lieb said. “She wanted to testify against him to make sure he couldn’t do this to any other children. This defendant videotaped his abuse, creating a record of the abuse that would revictimize this child every time it was played.

“He will never harm another child in our area or anywhere else.”

The abuse came to light in June, 2020, when the defendant was arrested for domestic violence. The defendant called the victim’s mother from jail in an attempt to get her to destroy evidence. About the same time, the victim’s mother told a co-worker that she had found videotapes of the sexual abuse. The co-worker notified the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

Detectives obtained a search warrant for the home where the crimes occurred and found both a camera mounted to the wall behind the bed and an electronic tablet. The memory card on the camera and the tablet both contained videos of the crimes with which the defendant was convicted.

The victim’s mother is serving a 20-year sentence for Neglect of a Child Causing Great Bodily Harm, Failure to Report Child Abuse, Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Possession of Methamphetamine, and Possession of Cocaine. She was charged with neglect and failure to report because evidence showed she was aware of the abuse and did nothing to protect the child.

Lieb thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office and Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center investigators for their work in discovering and investigating the crimes.

For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at mike.cazalas@sa14.fl.gov, or call 850-381-7454.